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Indignation Grows in U.S. Over British Prewar Documents
Critics of Bush call them proof that he and Blair never
saw diplomacy as an option with Hussein.
By John Daniszewski
Times Staff Writer
May 12, 2005
LONDON — Reports in the British press this month based on documents
indicating that President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair had
conditionally agreed by July 2002 to invade Iraq appear to have blown over
quickly in Britain.
But in the United States, where the reports at first received scant
attention, there has been growing indignation among critics of the Bush
White House, who say the documents help prove that the leaders made a
secret decision to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein nearly a year
before launching their attack, shaped intelligence to that aim and never
seriously intended to avert the war through diplomacy.
The documents, obtained by Michael Smith, a defense specialist writing for
the Sunday Times of London, include a memo of the minutes of a meeting
July 23, 2002, between Blair and his intelligence and
military chiefs; a briefing paper for that meeting and a Foreign Office
legal opinion prepared before an April 2002 summit between Blair and Bush
The picture that emerges from the documents is of a British government
convinced of the U.S. desire to go to war and Blair's agreement to it,
subject to several specific conditions.
Since Smith's report was published May 1, Blair's Downing Street office
has not disputed the documents' authenticity. Asked about them Wednesday,
a Blair spokesman said the report added nothing significant to the
much-investigated record of the lead-up to the war.
"At the end of the day, nobody pushed the diplomatic route harder than the
British government…. So the circumstances of this July discussion very
quickly became out of date," said the spokesman, who asked not to be
The leaked minutes sum up the July 23 meeting, at which Blair, top
security advisors and his attorney general discussed Britain's role in
Washington's plan to oust Hussein. The minutes, written by Matthew Rycroft,
a foreign policy aide, indicate general thoughts among the participants
about how to create a political and legal basis for war. The case for
military action at the time was "thin," Foreign Minister Jack Straw was
characterized as saying, and Hussein's government posed
Labeled "secret and strictly personal — U.K. eyes only," the
minutes begin with the head of the British intelligence service, MI6, who
is identified as "C," saying he had returned from Washington, where there
had been a "perceptible shift in attitude. Bush wanted to remove Saddam,
through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and
[weapons of mass destruction]. But the intelligence and the facts were
being fixed around the policy."
Straw agreed that Bush seemed determined to act militarily, although the
timing was not certain.
"But the case was thin," the minutes say. "Saddam was not threatening his
neighbors, and his WMD capacity was less than that of Libya, North Korea
Straw then proposed to "work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam" to
permit United Nations weapons inspectors back into Iraq. "This would also
help with the legal justification for the use of force," he said,
according to the minutes.
Blair said, according to the memo, "that it would make a big difference
politically and legally if Saddam refused to allow in the U.N.
"If the political context were right, people would support regime change,"
Blair said. "The two key issues were whether the military plan worked and
whether we had the political strategy to give the military plan the space
In addition to the minutes, the Sunday Times report referred to a Cabinet
briefing paper that was given to participants before the July 23 meeting.
It stated that Blair had already promised Bush cooperation earlier, at the
April summit in Texas.
"The U.K. would support military action to bring about regime change," the
Sunday Times quoted the briefing as saying.
Excerpts from the paper, which Smith provided to the Los Angeles Times,
said Blair had listed conditions for war, including that "efforts had been
made to construct a coalition/shape public opinion, the Israel-Palestine
crisis was quiescent," and options to "eliminate Iraq's WMD through the
U.N. weapons inspectors" had been exhausted.
The briefing paper said the British government should get
the U.S. to put its military plans in a "political framework."
"This is particularly important for the U.K. because it is necessary to
create the conditions in which we could legally support military action,"
In a letter to Bush last week, 89 House Democrats expressed shock over the
documents. They asked if the papers were authentic and, if so, whether
they proved that the White House had agreed to invade Iraq months before
seeking Congress' OK.
"If the disclosure is accurate, it raises troubling new questions
regarding the legal justifications for the war as well as the integrity of
our own administration," the letter says.
"While the president of the United States was telling the citizens and the
Congress that they had no intention to start a war with Iraq, they were
working very close with Tony Blair and the British leadership at making
this a foregone conclusion," the letter's chief author, Rep. John Conyers
Jr. of Michigan, said Wednesday.
If the documents are real, he said, it is "a huge problem" in terms of an
abuse of power. He said the White House had not yet responded to the
Both Blair and Bush have denied that a decision on war was made in early
2002. The White House and Downing Street maintain that they were preparing
for military operations as an option, but that the option to not attack
also remained open until the war began March 20, 2003.
In January 2002, Bush described Iraq as a member of an "axis of evil," but
the sustained White House push for Iraqi compliance with U.N. resolutions
did not come until September of that year. That month, Bush addressed the
U.N. General Assembly to outline a case against Hussein's government, and
he sought a bipartisan congressional resolution authorizing the possible
use of force.
In November 2002, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution
demanding that Iraq readmit weapons inspectors.
An effort to pass a second resolution expressly authorizing the use of
force against Iraq did not succeed.
Times staff writer Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this